Kigoma Travel Guide | Kigoma Safari tours
Kigoma is a town and lake port in northwestern Tanzania, on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika and close to the border with Burundi and The Democratic Republic of the Congo. It serves as the capital for the surrounding Kigoma Region and has a population of 135,234 (2007 census) and an elevation of 775 metres (2,543 ft).
Kigoma is one of the busiest ports on northeastern Lake Tanganyika since historically it was the only one that had a functioning railway connection (the one at Kalemie in The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not operational at the moment, a direct link to the ocean port at Dar es Salaam.
The MV Liemba sails every week from Kigoma to Mpulungu in Zambia at the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika, stopping at a number of other lakeside towns in Tanzania on the way. The MV Mwongozo sails from Kigoma to Baraka, Uvira and Bujumbura at the northern tip of the lake, although it is not working currently. There are other ships from Congo and Burundi that sail to Kigoma Port every week.
Best Safari tours from Kigoma
The western safari parks of Katavi and Mahale are the “road less travelled” in safari circles. Due to the relative costs and inaccessibility of the region (a 4hour flight from Arusha or a night stop over from the south), only those both rich in funds and time tend to be able to get out here…but this is a huge shame as this really is an outstanding region of Africa and, in our opinion, really deserves to be ranked in the all time great trips on the continent. Moreover, with camps such as Katavi Wildlife offering great value for money, we would highly recommend spending a week here in season and defy you not to see at least three things that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in Africa! It is that good!
Gombe National Park:
Situated on the wild shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is an untamed place of lush forests and clear lake views. Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day’s expedition to see the chimpanzees is over.Gombe Stream’s main attraction is obviously the chimpanzee families that live protected in the park’s boundaries. Guided walks are available that take visitors deep into the forest to observe and sit with the extraordinary primates for an entire morning — an incredible experience and one that is the highlight of many visitors’ trips to Africa. Besides chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests. Vervet and colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelopes inhabit the dense forest, in addition to a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
Mahale National Park:
Covering about 1,600km² of the Mahale Mountains, this national park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks – which will be provided for you.
Mahale and Gombe National Parks
Spanning just over 14 square miles on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is Tanzania’s smallest national park.
It is one of three places where you can see chimpanzees in Tanzania.
The park’s diverse topography comprises vast grasslands, dense woodland areas and tropical rain forest, bisected by steep valleys, rivers and streams of water.
Famously, this is the site where Jane Goodall completed most of her pioneering chimpanzee research.
The resident primatologist spent many years in Gombe observing the behaviour of Chimpanzees, an endangered species.
Thanks to Jane Goodall, Many of the chimpanzee troops here are habituated (used to humans), meaning you can trek to see them up-close in their natural forest habitat.
Gombe is home to many rare primates alongside chimpanzees. There are olive baboons, red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, and vervet monkeys.
Birds, butterflies, and a wide variety of rare forest flora can be spotted during forest walks and chimpanzee treks. There are no large predators in Gombe Stream, apart from the occasional leopard sighting.
Gombe Stream sits on Tanzania’s remote western safari circuit, with Lake Tanganyika, Katavi National Park and the Mahale Mountains National Park.
This circuit is seldom visited due to its remote location and access by flight or boat only.
However, visitors are rewarded by untouched wilderness, great wildlife densities and a secluded safari experience away from some of Tanzania’s busier parks.
The Western Safari Circuit
Bordering four countries, Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world.
When standing on the lake’s sandy beaches – staring across the glassy blue waters to the horizon – this great expanse of water appears more like an ocean than a freshwater lake.
Perfect for a beach holiday after trekking through the forest, as Gombe Stream only has one accommodation option, you will likely stay in Lake Tanganyika.
Katavi National Park is just over 4,000-sq-km of pristine wilderness and is known for its high density of large mammals, including hippo, elephant, and lion.
Bordering Lake Tanganyika, the Mahale Mountains National Park is a primate paradise. The park is home to just under 1,000 chimpanzees, the rare Red and Angola colobuses, and the red and blue-tailed monkeys. They are the main attractions while you trek through the forest.
Head out on a guided forest walk to catch a glimpse of our closest relative, as well as up to 82 other wildlife species that call the parks home.
Approximately 150 chimpanzees live in the park.
A chimp sighting is never guaranteed. However, with experienced guides, the chance is good. Once you have located the troop, you will have up to one hour to observe them.
You will need a permit for chimpanzee tracking, and at the time of writing, a chimpanzee permit for Gombe National park is the cheaper option at $100.
Sundowners on Lake Tanganyika
One of the most popular evening activities is climbing aboard a dhow (traditional boat) and joining the crowd of lantern-laden dug-out canoes heading out to fish for the evening
Onboard, you can enjoy romantic sundowners and watch the sunset over the lake on a 1.5-hour tour.
Snorkelling and Diving
Lake Tanganyika is a great spot for diving and snorkelling.
The water is a consistent 25 degrees Celsius year-round, and visibility in the dry season goes as deep as 20 m.
The lake is teeming with vibrant and colourful cichlids. 98% of the 250 known cichlid species are present in this lake.
Most diving takes place close to the shores, so it is great for beginners and intermediate divers.
You’ll be with a local expert. It’s important to note that there are crocodiles, hippos and Bilharzia in some areas of the lake, so going with a local professional is essential.
Several other water sports activities may be available through your accommodation, including kayaking, wakeboarding, and water-skiing.
Food lovers will find plenty to indulge in here! Local cuisine includes dishes such as ugali (maize meal porridge), nyama choma (grilled meat) accompanied by kachumbari salad or mchicha stew made from leafy vegetables spiced up with onions & tomatoes.
Mbale Mbale Gombe Camp
Nestled under the canopy of ancient mango trees lies Gombe’s only tented camp. Mbali Mbali Gombe Camp is a luxurious and intimate safari camp with a maximum of fourteen guests.
The seven tents are protected under thatched roofs, offering shade over the private deck, perfect for unwinding, away from the afternoon heat.
Each tent is perfectly situated to ensure solitude, with a strip of forest between each tent.
Four-poster beds with mosquito nets ensure a great night’s sleep, and every tent includes a flush toilet and hot showers.
Set on the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, there is a spacious communal lounge that includes a library, bar, dining room and jetty leading to the lake.
Lake Shore Lodge
Lake Shore Lodge sits on the golden sandy bay close to Gombe Stream. This serene, privately owned lodge has a range of accommodation on offer that caters to all budgets.
You can drift off to the crashing in your luxury beach front chalet or set up your DIY camp surrounded by the ancient mango trees.
The varying accommodation is suited to a range of people. You can bond as a family by camping or romantically escape to the lodge’s honeymoon suite. This features a private dining deck, a sunken bath, and twin showers.
The luxury chalets are all en-suite and open right out onto the beach, providing an unobstructed view of the azure blue waters.
Lawn bandas are an excellent option for those who wish to spend a little less. They offer the same exclusive views of the mountains and lakes. However, they have shared bathroom facilities.
Unwind in the jacuzzi, wake up with an early morning yoga class or take an afternoon in the spa.
Nestled in a cluster of small islands on Lake Tanganyika, Lupita Island is a remote, untouched private island on 110 acres of uninhabited space.
The lodge is perched atop a hill and boasts panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
The resort offers luxurious, comfortable and secluded accommodation in the form of 10 beautiful cottages.
The lodge offers a good range of facilities and amenities, including fine dining, a spa, a swimming pool, a games room, a bar & lounge, and a gym.
The best time to visit Gombe Stream National Park is from June to September, during the dry season. Trekking through the forest is easier at this time of year, and the likelihood of seeing the chimps increases.
Gombe has one continuous wet season from November to April, and we advise you to avoid this time, as nature walks are less enjoyable in the mud and rain and likely lead to cancellation.
From Dar es Salaam the best way to get to Gombe Stream National park is by domestic flight to Kigoma. There are daily scheduled flights, and they take approximately 2 hours.
From Arusha, only shared charter flights are available, and they operate twice a week.
Driving is not recommended due to the rough terrain and long distances.
Trains and buses are also available but can take up to 2 days if travelling from Dar es Salaam and are not recommended for people who like the luxury and comfort of travelling in business class.
Once you have arrived in Kigoma, lake taxi’s and private boats are the only way to reach Gombe Stream National Park.
Lake Taxi’s take approximately 4 hours from Kibrizi beach, just north of Kigoma.
This takes approximately costs 10,000tsh ($5), but don’t be afraid to haggle within reason.
Private charters are the most comfortable way to travel, and you won’t be confined to times that the lake taxis/ferry runs, However they can cost upwards of $200.
For something a bit different, The MV Liemba, a 100-year-old ‘indestructible warship‘, travels between Tanzania and Zambia as a passenger ferry ever other Wednesday on a five-day trip, and stops at Gombe.